Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Well, Nikoley is still feeling happy with his experiment, and from a popularity perspective, he's getting the traffic. I feel the need to expand on the difference between the food reward perspective and what my experience with a technique based on a slightly different theory, the flavor/calorie association, led me to believe. Both theories a based on the same or similar bodies of research, from what I understand.

Flavor is a signal, both generally and with regard to specific foods. The presence of a lot of flavor, and perhaps varieties of flavor, indicates abundance. The body responds by encouraging more eating. What's going on here? Well, long ago this was part of a process kicked off in summer when food was abundant. Eat plenty and put on some fat; this was a good adaptation to what was coming next- winter.

Low or no flavor is a signal too. We don't get much flavor when fasting. Appetite gets down-regulated. Now the food-reward gurus keep saying carbohydrates don't matter, but I've noticed a serious difference in the ease of transition into a fasted state from a high-fat diet versus a high carb diet. The blood sugar roller-coaster ride makes the transition very harsh. With a high fat diet the blood sugar stays stable, and the transition into the fasted state is much easier.

The Shangri-La Diet is the introduction of calories with no flavor- often achieved with a nose-clip and calorie dense food, like oil.
Bland diets work to a limited extent, though it is not clear they are worth it for reasons I'll mention in a minute. Bland diets are based around foods with little flavor (low signal) and a range of calories.
Traditional, home-made fair tended to be variable in both flavor and calories over time. Things changed, ingredients were substituted, etc... In many cases, especially before the introduction of industrial oils and various refined foods, this variability was enough to keep the set point from going up very much.
Modern processed foods provide a strong signal for exactly the same calories every single time.
The solid, predictable nature of this signal leads us to crave more of the same food, but also, more food period. Of course, if a person is already eating one highly processed food, they will tend to find more of them and compound their error.
Finally, there are spices, herbs, fermented foods etc... This is a class of foods that have strong flavor, but very little calories. I believe the bland diet isn't a very good idea because these strong flavors signal nutritive and medicinal value. In modern times we see them as being used largely to make other foods more palatable and therefore problematic, but the benefits here suggest we should keep them. Use them in different ways perhaps, but use them.

This is basically what the research can legitimately support. It cannot support a food reward theory that ignores carbohydrates altogether. We can understand why, for instance a potato has a low response- the weak signal isn't as effective as a stronger one. But what does that mean over time? Are you going to eat all your potatos plain? If you have an issue with blood sugar and insulin, will it just magically disappear because the food-reward people want it to?
What's the time frame of your experiment? Will you get used to a low-signal/high reward food and slowly start gaining weight?

The best practice in the Paleo world is, in my opinion, Robb Wolf's unweighed, unmeasured Paleo. This is naturally somewhat low carbohydrate, and if someone is coming into this trying to lose weight, making sure it stays low carbohydrate is important. The Paleo diet also functions as an elimination diet; the safe starch & potato arguments just don't work for newcomers. These foods may be something people can add back in after they've healed up from the S.A.D., but I am seeing a debate where the very people who benefit from the original diet turn round and claim that one aspect of it isn't necessary. This debate will cripple newcomers- especially those who are metabolically deranged. Blood sugar is far more important than the debaters remember, both in regard to appetite and one's general sense of well being.

This is where the arguments about how many carbohydrates did ancient man eat just break down; we don't know, and we are dealing with modern day humans who've done whatever damage they've done with processed foods. Getting back to a healthy response to insulin should be at the top on the list of things to do, regardless of whether on not insulin is what originally caused the problem.


Melissa said...

I don't think paleo works that well as an elimination diet, because it eliminates foods somewhat arbitrarily rather than based on their actual properties. That's why it didn't work for me at first, because half the vegetables allowed in "paleo" make me sick. IHMO it's far better to map the foods to potential problems they could cause and eliminate them that way, such as the FODMAPS approach.

justme27 said...

I will be paying attention to the potato intake- we're just starting out and my husband needs it for weight loss and adjusting to a better normal. And gluten messes with my kids.